Adoptive/Foster Parents- You are NOT Responsible for the Trauma Your Child Endured Before He Came To You

When dad came to pick us kids up for summer visitation, the departure was swift.  We packed our bags in the trunk of his car and rushed down the lane, leaving a trail of dust behind us, Mom growing smaller in the distance. 

This is the moment that fear gripped me. The familiar faded away, and the unknown lay before me. The tense anxiety choked me while my stomach churned.

Down the highway we sped to another unknown destination. Dad rarely bothered to sit down and explain where we were going and what it would be like this time. The landscape changed from the hills of West Virginia to the bluegrass of Kentucky or the plains of Iowa, where we once raced beside a tornado as it ate up the fields beside us.

Every year, it was a new home in a new state. And every year, it was the same unstable summer, with our travel and activities dictated by someone else’s moodiness or alcoholism. New places did not fill me with hope. They were foreign landscapes with no known retreats or safe hideaways from the too-familiar emotional climate.

The unrest filtered down to me and cemented my fear and presupposition: “There is nothing good in the world.

My past gave me a faulty picture of the world. Even today, I struggle with sitting in the backseat of a car. I need to know where we are going on a trip. I don’t just want the directions — I want to see the map.

My early life sometimes still dictates my now. I know that, and I have strategies to deal with it. My friends know, so they let me sit in the front or drive. It took me years to figure out why I didn’t like to sit in the back seat or why panic rose up in me. Knowing the why helps me deal with it.

Our adopted children don’t know the why or the how. They see through the lens of their past, and it is like an old camera. The view is scratched and distorted, and they may blame us, the adoptive parents, for it. Can you imagine if I went on a road trip with my friends and blamed them for my fear of riding in the back seat?

But children have a difficult time separating their past from their now.

If they could, our adopted children might say:

You are not responsible for the trauma that happened to me before I came into your family, but I will act like it. If you let guilt rule the home, we will both be miserable, and neither of us will experience any healing.

Separating our children’s past from their now is a difficult aspect of adoption. We parents must be the mature ones and not let their reactions to past events determine our reactions to current events. If we do react negatively, then we will live in a constant state of civil war, and more wounds will be inflicted. No healing will take place, and the child will be orphaned (rejected) twice.

I don’t have my reactions mastered. I wish I did. I am writing this because my daughter Audrey says I should share things that I wish someone would have told me. I wish someone had told me this: Many of us who have the heart for adoption — especially the desire to adopt a large sibling group of children — have had a troubled past ourselves. The desire directs us to adopt, but it doesn’t equip us. We must equip and educate ourselves.

No one told me that my past and my adopted children’s pasts would engage in a tug of war to the death.

We both had a faulty lens on our camera. Guess who had to change hers first? Me. Guess who had to die? Me. My flesh. Guess who messed up, often? Me.

We assume that wrestling with the child means a physical fight, and if we are not careful, that is what it becomes. Daily. And there is no healing that way.

Consider Ephesians 6:12 —

For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

I have always loved this verse. It sounds so mystical, mysterious. We aren’t supposed to engage in a fight with physical opponents, so how do we fight these master spirits who are the rulers of this present darkness? Ephesians 6:11 commands us to put on our armor so that we will be able to stand up against the strategies and deceits of the devil. This is war!

Adoption is war — a spiritual battle. We are not fighting with a physical sword, though. Our sword is the Word. Our belt is truth. Our feet must be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. We raise our shield to protect us from the fiery darts of the wicked one. We put on our helmet of salvation (deliverance) and breastplate of righteousness.

What does this look like in reality? Sometimes it means we just stand. We don’t react when our child melts down and blames us for his hurt, for his feeling rejected. We speak the truth in love: “Man, that stinks! How does that make you feel?” And we redirect, “What do you think we could do about that?”

When we disengage our right to react, we become powerful.

And more important than any of the above, we pray a prayer for healing. Place your child’s name in the blanks:

__________is not harassed by physical symptoms or feelings or their supposed connections to past events. The curse of rejection and abandonment is broken. _____________ is a new creature with a heavenly Father who loves _________, the Stronghold is broken, and the sticky web of the past is dissolved. ___________has forgiven and _________ is forgiven. ______________is washed clean and ____________ reactions are based on the Word and the new creature that _____________is, not the old, fearful, anxious child that _______________was. NO! ____________ is a strong, assertive child of the King, a co-inheritor with Christ. ________________ has all the benefits that He has bestowed upon me. ______________is more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus.

Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part V

Hi, thanks for joining me for the series “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You.” If you missed the introduction, you can find it here. Last month, our focus was PLAY and ways to play or use home therapy for free. We’ll have more posts on that in the future, but the theme for the month of June is “Adoption.”

“You can’t take my games away!”
“I’m not going! I hate you!”
“I wish you wouldn’t have adopted me!”

These are some of the words I have heard in my home from the more verbal children. Some kids don’t ever get to the stage of being able to connect words to feelings. They lash out in other ways. Broken toys. Knifed couches. Biting. Head butting. Hurt kids have an emotional state as fragile as a dandelion gone to seed. 15738141450_d335362e31_o We parents can mistakenly assume that these children don’t want to be loved. They push everyone away. Think of it as “opposite land.” The more a child pushes away, the more his need to connect. Every word spoken in defiance, every fearful act, every act of violence means this:

  1. I do want to be loved and accepted. It is my deepest desire, just like anyone else on the planet, but I don’t know how to get there. Will you help me?

Being a parent of hurt children is a tough almost impossible job. It’s as if we are reading a road map in a foreign language. We must learn this new dance of attachment in order for the child to survive and then thrive. If we keep reacting to the behaviors in traditional parenting, parent and child will suffer, again and again, we will traipse around the mountain of disconnect until we have worn the trench so deeply we cannot see the light. We must train our ears and our responses. Connection is work. It’s not sweet-sappy-let-you-get-away-with anything-work. It’s ignore our own feelings work. Our right to react must be squelched. It must be us parents who make to the leap over the chasm the child has created and connect. How do we do this?

1. Stop reacting emotionally. I know. This is the painful truth. We must not participate in the luxury of a reaction. Think of connecting with your child as a full time job with benefits. The benefit of an eighty hour work week (of not reacting emotionally) may be a pinprick of light. A tiny smile. A hug. A cuddle. A conversation. If you are confused about what I mean about reacting emotionally, just think of something your child does that makes your blood boil and follow your thoughts to your last reaction. Did you yell? Threaten with grounding forever? Promise never to take that child anywhere again? Or buy him anything again? (Guilty of all of the above.) Guess what happens in these scenarios? The kid has got our goat. All of the goat is in his pen. He won. We lost. That battle is over. No growth. No connection. Now think of the same action or word that make your blood boil and while you are not angry, think of a logical consequence. Write it down if you have to. Here’s a simple one for me:  My son leaves his shoes beside the shoe cubby in the middle of the floor. I asked him a bazillion times to pick them up. He ‘forgets’ every time. So, I charge him a dollar for my labor of picking them up. And I told him that bit of news calmly. Now, when he forgets and sees me heading toward the shoes, he jumps up and races me for them. And we laugh. That’s a simple example. but you get the idea. Most of the time, the behaviors of hurt children are much more serious in nature. The principle is the same. Decide ahead of time how you will react. Give a consequence without anger. Keep your goat. Dr. Purvis quote 2. Do something fun with your child while you are angry. We cannot make our emotions go away. If your child breaks something in an angry fit and you have followed the last suggestion and given him a consequence. You are firm, but not a crazy, yelling, mad momma. You deserve a medal. Here’s the catch. You may still feel mad. You will still feel like you’re going to blow a gasket. And you will want to stay away from the child. You may need a few minutes to hide in the bathroom and pray or text a friend and pray. Then come out and do something fun. This is the time to connect. You can do it! Every time you don’t engage in anger, you build a connection opportunity. When you do something fun with your child after he has a meltdown, you are communicating love at his level. You are saying, “You are valuable. You are worth loving!” You are connecting and that is every human’s deepest innate desire.